Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Labnah and Zatar and Saj, Oh My!

Today marks 3 months since we stepped foot in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and although I am still sleeping on borrowed bed sheets; we are adjusting to life in this strange and wonderful country.  As in all our adventures, we arrived on Arab soil craving some local fare.  Thankfully, we were immediately introduced to my new comfort food, labnah and honey on Arabic flatbread (saj).  If you are a cheese or yogurt lover than you will have found your soul mate in labnah; a thick cream cheese-like spread but with the tart zing of yogurt.  The labnah is mixed with honey, spread on flatbread and baked in a stone-fire oven.  Divine.

 If you knew me in Singapore then you will understand when I say that labnah saj is the kaya toast of KSA........for me anyway.

If you are more the savory type.....no fear.  Zatar saj is the remedy for your buds.  The same flatbread is baked with Zatar spices, traditionally a blend of dried herbs including thyme and oregano and mixed with sumac, sesame seeds and salt.  The end result is a spicy, tangy mix with hints of citrus.  Divine.

If you knew me in Singapore then you will understand when I say that zatar saj is the roti prata of KSA........for me anyway.

 These indigenous goodies can be found at almost any local establishment, but of course they taste that much better when you find the right eatery.  For us that is Latif Pastry.   This is a crusty, flaky, crumbly building, well......much like a fine pastry........but sitting opposite a dirt parking lot.   If you are looking for ambience then Latif will test how skilled you are at looking.  The families-only section, where all families and single women need to enter, is a room a bit bigger than some American walk-in-closets (okay, I might be exaggerating..... a bit). The walls are a dingy remembrance of a once fresh white and they are devoid of any decoration.  Bright yellow plastic booths fill the space and are accompanied by rectangular tables, some chipped and marked and loved.
Nothing about this place says high-maintenance, in fact it screams no-fuss.

I love it.

The flippancy and ambivalence of the decor seems to be right in tune with the cultural psyche that I have encountered so far.  "Eh......you like our food then you'll come."  No need to be otherwise impressed.

 I'm impressed.

Latif's labnah and honey saj is the best I have had so far.  It is Sunday morning in your pjs watching cartoons as a kid kinda good.  It is hot cocoa steaming from my mug while giant snowflakes make their way to the Chicago ground kinda good.

In a world full of super chains and copycat menus thank you Latif Pastry. 

You are refreshing.